Skincare can be so overwhelming — and it makes sense why. There aren’t only multiple types of individual products, those individual products also come in multiple forms, whether it’s a cream, serum, or a pod filled with product. There are, however, a few names that stand out from the rest, and one of those is retinol. There are so many retinol misconceptions, and we’ve enlisted Dr. Frauke Neuser, Olay’s principal scientist to break down what you should look for, what age you should start applying, and everything in-between.
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First of all, what is retinol? You’ve probably also heard its sister term, retinoids, which is the umbrella term for all natural vitamin A/retinol derivatives and their synthetic counterparts. According to Dr. Neuser, over the counter retinols have come a long way. They come in serums, oils, and creams, and can deliver similar benefits to retinoids. Back in the day, retinols were mainly recommended to fight either acne or severe photo aging, like wrinkles. But now, they cover a wide range of benefits. Here are just a few things you should know about retinols before you get into the doctor-recommended habit for yourself.
Who Should Buy Over the Counter vs. Seeing a Doctor?
According to Dr. Neuser, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for retinols. I’ve heard that you should start out with over the counter products so you can build up for a stronger prescription retinoid, but Dr. Neuser says that’s not the case. “Products a dermatologist prescribes comes with very specific indications, such as anti-acne or anti-aging, and are usually at a very low dose (but use retinoic acid, the most potent retinoid),” says Neuser. She suggests that patients visit a doctor if they have a skin health condition, such as acne, as there might be specific treatments as well as topical products that aren’t available over the counter. If you're just looking to stop or slow down aging, you can reach for over the counter options.
What’s the Best Age to Start Using Retinol?
Today, skincare is all about preventative care. “Derms I’ve spoken to have literally said from cradle to grave — there’s no stop age [or ideal start age]," says Dr. Neuser. It’s recommended to even start using it in your 20s. However, Dr. Neuser notes that you shouldn’t use retinols while you’re pregnant.
The Best Time to Apply Retinol
“Retinols are best applied at night,” says Dr. Neuser. “Some formulas are UV-sensitive, which means the retinol might break down before it can penetrate your skin.” Your skin rejuvenates and repairs at night so it’s a great time to use retinol to support that process.
What to Look for In Your Retinol
According to Dr. Neuser, not all retinols are created equal, but she believes retinyl propionate and retinol are the best studied and proven types of retinoids. “Some of the newer, so-called synthetic retinoids just don’t have as much research behind them. In addition, try and find a product that provides skin hydration and some other tried and tested skin care actives such as vitamin B3 and peptides,” says Neuser. As a general rule of thumb, always avoid fragranced products, especially if you know your skin can be sensitive.
Should Retinol Hurt? How Will You Know It’s Working?
This is perhaps the biggest misconception about retinol. Your retinol should work with your skin, not against it — but there may be some very minor irritation such as slight redness or dryness when you first start a regimen. Anything above that could mean your skin is not meshing with the product. You should see improvements over time, not a drastic change for the worse.